Select Page

Kitchen Concept

We worked with the Quality of Life Technology Center to redesign the kitchen experience for aging adults by resolving the physical challenges that make kitchen use dangerous.


4 months (part-time)
Aug. 2012 – Nov. 2012


Benet Clark, Cameron Hall, Shivani Sheth, Julia Swearer, Ryan Vanston

My Contributions

User Interviews
Established design objectives
Led meetings with experts
Designed new interactions
Evaluated designs
Engineered physical prototype
Managing editor of final report

The need for a kitchen that allows for Aging in Place

According to a 2010 survey by AARP, 89% of Americans age 45 and up want to “age in place” by staying in their homes as long as possible instead of a nursing home. One of the biggest barriers to maintaining independence into old age is continuing to prepare meals for oneself. As one ages, the traditional kitchen becomes increasingly difficult and dangerous to use.

Physical Challenges

  • reaching up high to retrieve items from the cabinet or freezer
  • bending over to place food in the oven or load the dishwasher
  • seeing available items in dark refrigerators
  • reaching in to refrigerators to grab food from the back
  • lifting heavy pans and placing them into the oven

We redesigned the refrigerator, oven, dishwasher, and cabinets to enable Aging in Place.

  • New ways to interact with these items improve safety and ease of use by minimizing the physical challenges.
  • The original interactions are kept as an alternative way to use the items.
  • A traditional aesthetic avoids “old people” stereotypes and increases marketability.
  • Items can be purchased separately and integrated into existing kitchen layouts to avoid the cost of renovating an entire kitchen.

Check out each of the 4 kitchen items:

French doors are lighter and easier to open than one door

Vegetable and freezer drawers are positioned higher so that the user does not need to bend down to retrieve food

Retractable steps are located in the space below the refrigerator and can help people reach food on the top shelves


A “lazy Susan” carousel helps people reach items by moving them from the back to the front

More lighting helps people see their food without removing it


Push the cabinet up to free up valuable countertop space

Pull the cabinet down with a small tug to bring top shelves closer to eye level for increased visibility and access without the back strain from reaching up high

Mobile Cabinets

At the push of a button, the rack can be raised and locked into place for loading instead of requiring the user to strain their back as they fill it

The traditional loading method is still available


The front loading door is still available for access to clean the oven or for putting dishes on other racks

The side door can be used to slide heavy dishes into and out of the oven without spills

The oven sits on top of the countertop so that the person doesn’t have to bend down to open it


12-week Process


Borrowing insights from our partner, the Quality of Life Technology Center

The Quality of Life Technology (QoLT) Center is a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center focused on the development of intelligent systems that enable older adults and people with disabilities to live more independently.

We had the opportunity to tour one of the QoLT kitchen research labs to see examples of their solutions. Their design decisions highlighted the needs of older adults based on their user research.


  • The experts introduced the concept of Aging in Place which we adopted as our vision.
  • Based on common physical challenges, we narrowed our scope to focus on 4 high-impact kitchen items (refrigerator, oven, dishwasher, and cabinets).
  • We were encouraged to follow the standard dimensions for kitchen items so that each of our products would fit into existing kitchen layouts.
  • The experts helped us to identify the most common challenges of kitchen use.

Interviews with members of the aging population to identify design considerations

We conducted 9 interviews with participants age 55 and over to get their thoughts on kitchen remodels and what they considered to be the most important aspects of their kitchen use.


  • Kitchen remodels are seen as a real treat that they worked hard for, not necessarily a pragmatic decision.
  • Cost is a major concern.
  • They want a kitchen with a traditional style, not one with the stereotypical “old people” aesthetic.
  • They want family and friends to be able to use the appliances when they come over for Thanksgiving.

Performing market research to gain inspiration and predict feasibility and cost

We evaluated standard and high-end appliances to identify their short-comings, note sought-after features, and review the price range. We also evaluated commercial designs for inspiration.


This commercial dishwasher’s rack is loaded before it is pushed into the machine inspiring new ways to load dishes.


This store refrigerator’s see-through doors and shallow shelves inspired improvements in visibility and reachability.


Brainstorming new ways to interact with the kitchen items

We generated several concepts for each of the 4 kitchen items. We were inspired by items that we evaluated during market research but also interactions that we experienced in our past.

Oven Inspiration

Food slides into the Easy-Bake oven’s side door inspiring a new way of putting heavy pans into the oven.

Mobile Cabinet Inspiration

These chalkboards can easily be pulled down or pushed up inspiring improved reachability.

10 initial concepts

An analytical approach to choosing the final concepts

Pairwise Comparison to rank objectives

Based on our research, we identified five objectives and ranked them against each other. Safety and Ease of Use were primary concerns.

Weighted-Check Chart to select concepts

We presented the 10 concepts to QoLT’s Industrial Design Liaison and 60 peers to get their opinions on how well each design met the objectives. We used a separate weighted-check chart for each of the 4 items to compare concepts and choose one to pursue. The example chart below is for the dishwasher.


3 Design Cycles

Our designs are a product of deep discussions amongst our team, weekly meetings with our QoLT partner, and bi-weekly design reviews with peers. I acted as an advocate for aging adults and helped to evaluate the effectiveness of different design alternatives. I worked closely with the industrial designer to produce renderings.

5 Design Objectives and Constraints

As we evaluated the design alternatives, we kept the following design objectives and constraints in mind.

  • Minimize the physical challenges.
  • Follow standard kitchen dimensions.
  • Keep the traditional interaction as an alternative.
  • Avoid the stereotypical “old people” aesthetic.
  • Keep costs comparable to the luxury appliance market.

Low-Fidelity Prototype

We presented sketches to our partner and peers for feedback.




Mid-fidelity Prototype

As we gained confidence in our designs, we made more realistic prototypes to showcase the use of materials for feedback.

Changes based on feedback

  • The refrigerator no longer has a separate, attached freezer.
  • There’s a see-through door on the oven so the user can monitor their food.
  • The oven’s side door lifts into a hidden compartment.
  • The oven can sit on top of a countertop instead of requiring a special layout.




Mobile Cabinet

Physical Prototypes

Over the span of 3 weeks, we made physical prototypes for 3 items (all but the oven) to explore the feasibility of the mechanics. Through this process, we did not detect any functional design flaws and gained confidence.


The dishwasher prototype helped us to explore the mechanism that would be used to raise and lower the dishwasher basket. This prototype uses a manual rail system but the final version would be mechanical.

Mobile Cabinet

I was on the team that built a functional prototype of the mobile cabinet. We used materials found at Home Depot and a weight found around the house to create a pulley system.


We took a different approach to creating a physical prototype for the refrigerator because of its large size. We printed a smaller-scaled, yet more precise, 3D model of the refrigerator to test the viability of the lazy Susan design and retractable stairs. This image shows the CAD model used to print it.


  • The mechanism to raise and lower the dishwasher basket needs to be reinforced for stability. We raised the entire base as a solution.
  • The mobile cabinets are very heavy and that means that they are not very stable. We need to find a better way to secure them to the wall.


We created a final report to pass knowledge to the next team

In a 40-page report, we documented the research findings, design process, and design specifications for the client and new designers taking over the project. This was the first time that I edited such an extensive engineering report.

The next team continued iterating on our mobile cabinet concept

Our partner, QoLT,  saw promise in our cabinet design. A new team of designers continued to work on it.

Updated Cabinet Design

In the updated design, only the drawers move instead of the entire cabinet, resulting in less force needed to pull and push. The cabinet housing is better secured to the wall.

See More Projects